Several years ago — it was before the Giants won two World Series — I walked into Brian Sabean's office overlooking the field at Scottsdale Stadium during spring training. As he motioned me to a chair, I glanced at his desk. It was piled high with computer printouts that looked like the entire Genome Project.
He pointed to the stacks of paper and started riffling through them. He muttered to himself.
He told me the printouts showed the new reality of baseball. Data proved teams would get a certain window of opportunity to win a world championship. The window would be brief and fleeting and, quickly, the window would close.
He told me the Giants were at the window, peeking into the room. Or something like that.
I took him seriously because I always take Brian Sabean seriously — even when he's not serious.
And he was right. The Giants, up to now, had a three-year window and they aggressively dove through the window, broke the glass, took over the mansion, ate pizza on the fancy couches in the living room.
Has the window of opportunity closed?
That is the operative question as the Giants approach July, as they approach the halfway point of this season with a so-so record.
We don't know yet.
Some things we do know. The Giants' pitching is a head-scratcher. It's weird when one starter — Barry Zito — can pitch great at home and is Flop Central on the road. It's weird when another starter Tim Lincecum — can't throw the ball where he wants. It's weird when a championship team has no fifth starter, at least for now, or a set-up man in the bullpen — Santiago Casilla on the disabled list.
And it's certainly weird when an elite team — or a formerly-elite team — can't hit with power and doesn't have a proven center fielder, Angel Pagan, who also happens to be the leadoff hitter. And it's weird when everyone is hailing Pablo Sandoval, just off the disabled list, as the savior — he can jack a ball — even though the savior never stays in shape and doesn't seem to care.
The Giants have issues.
They have so many issues manager Bruce Bochy seems distracted and nervous. Bochy usually is so balanced in his approach to baseball and life it's impossible to picture him nervous. But there he is after games drumming his fingers on the desk of the interview room, uncomfortable answering the same questions about the hitting power outage and, frankly, wanting to get the hell out of there.
Despite all this — and there's a lot of "this" — the Giants are alive, if not well, and it's impossible to say the window of opportunity has closed. You want to know why it's impossible to say?
The Giants play in the National League West.
The National League West is a division unlike other divisions. It has a reality all its own. Call it reality surreal. It will be up for grabs all season. Its very existence helps sick teams like the Giants get well. That's partly because most of the NL West teams have sicknesses of their own. Despite Monday night's loss to the Dodgers, the division will not be decided anytime soon.